Olympics confuses Pittsburgher

I'm befuddled by the weird events and divided loyalties

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Has any worldwide sports extravaganza ever given itself a makeover quite like the Winter Olympics has? While the Summer Olympics by comparison has remained relatively unchanged over the last century (if you don’t count the addition of beach volleyball), the Winter Olympics simply aren’t the same event some of us grew up watching.

There have been nights over the past two weeks when I’ve tuned into NBC’s coverage and had no idea what I was looking at. There is something called snowboard cross in which “incidental contact” is allowed as a half-dozen competitors barrel down the hill and over a series of jumps at the same time. Can the addition of Rollerball on Ice be far behind?

This year they’ve also introduced a men’s slopestyle ski competition in which, as far as I can tell, you score points for how well you twist and flip over what looks like a variety of playground furnishings strewn about a steep, snowy hill. American Josh Christensen took the gold medal after nailing an “immaculate nose butter triple cork 1620,” according to one account. If you say so, dude.

Americans are dominating these sports, but you’ll have to excuse me for not feeling the same 1980 level of pride as when the Americans pulled off the “Miracle on Ice.” In fact, the United States could end up winning its first men’s hockey gold medal since those Lake Placid games 34 years ago. But it’s not going to feel anywhere near as good.

It’s like the night the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It was a moment for the ages, gloriously burned into our memories. But as much as we might like to, we cannot relive it. So too with the Miracle — especially now that NHL players dominate the rosters of the various competing nations. Honestly, who are we supposed to cheer for?

In 1980, we knew the Soviets were the enemy. They were the guys who showed up in North America every few years to humiliate Team Canada. They were the “Evil Empire” taking on a bunch of American college kids with fresh-scrubbed cheeks. The Russians weren’t helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup like Evgeni Malkin did in 2009.

Who among the Steel City faithful could possibly have had the heart to hope that fate would stomp on Mr. Malkin’s gold medal dreams when he battled the Americans last Saturday in Sochi? How guilty do you feel now that the Russian team has been bounced from the Olympics? You better hope good ol’ Geno can find his way back to Pittsburgh before Vladimir Putin sends him to the gulag.

Oh sure, the obvious choice for us Americans is seemingly to show our support for the stars and stripes. But to pull for the U.S.A. means rooting against a hometown hero like Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. He just happens to be the captain of the Canadian team that the United States must now beat to advance to this weekend’s gold-medal game.

After all that Sid the Kid has done for Pittsburgh, as hard as he has had to work to battle back from devastating injuries, can you really in good conscience hope that he falls short of the back-to-back gold medals his countrymen feel he is destined to win?

And if the Americans should defeat Canada and meet Finland in the championship game, are you really OK with dashing the hopes of Pittsburgh’s faithful and talented teenaged defenseman Olli Maatta? I mean, all Mr. Maatta has done is rack up the seventh highest point total on the team, while helping to lead the Penguins to the best record in the Eastern Conference prior to the Olympic break.

Face it, Pens fans, gone are the days when we could enjoy the luxury of backing just one team in the Olympics. It hurts too much to see anyone lose. And there isn’t enough glory to go around to all the good guys playing for different flags.

I’ll be happy when they are all back under one flag. The black and gold of Penguins Nation.

Paul Guggenheimer hosts Essential Pittsburgh on 90.5 WESA, the NPR member station in Pittsburgh.

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